Born William Aubrey McCall, Jr., 1900, Allen, Oklahoma.
Bill McCall was the owner of Four Star Records. A hard-nosed businessman with no musical background, McCall was notorious for exploiting the acts on his roster and routinely awarding himself a co-writing credit on every song he published. It is highly doubtful that McCall ever wrote a complete song on his own. Yet he managed to achieve a total of 620 (!) entries in the BMI database, under the pseudonym W.S Stevenson. Not only did he buy many songs outright, he also made extra money by purchasing controlling rights to songs by struggling songwriters, changing a lyric or two, and making himself co-writer. Furthermore, he would claim composer credits on any Public Domain songs that his artists recorded. Sometimes he would put his wife's name (Ethel Bassey) on songs. Plus, the recording contracts his Four Star Music Sales offered had the legal boilerplate that bound artists to record only material that Four Star published. Needless to say, all session costs were deducted from the meager percentage the artists received (if any).
The Four Star label was formed in 1945 in Los Angeles, by Richard A. (Dick) Nelson, with his partners Bill McCall and Cliff McDonald, as a subsidiary to their already established Gilt Edge label. By late 1946, when the label was on the brink of bankruptcy, the ambitious McCall invested $ 5,000 and acquired full control of the company. He quickly cornered the early post-war market in the burgeoning fields of Country & Western (4 Star) and Rhythm & Blues (Gilt Edge). McCall moved the label out to Pasadena, California, during the 1948 AFM recording strike, employing such effective collaborators as Pappy Daily (in Texas) and John R. Fullbright and Bob Geddins (in the Bay Area), as well as sales manager Don Pierce.
Among Four Star's early acts were T. Texas Tyler, who gave the label its first substantial hits (like "Deck Of Cards", a # 2 country hit in 1948), the Maddox Brothers and Rose (1946-51), Ferlin Husky (1949-51), Webb Pierce (1950) and Slim Willet (1952). Patsy Cline was signed to Four Star from 1954 to 1960, though her records appeared on Decca and Coral as the result of a licensing agreement. McCall's contractual stipulation that Cline record only songs from the Four Star publishing catalogue is generally perceived as having hobbled the singer's career early on. Patsy called McCall "The snake" and in the various Patsy Cline bio- graphies, numerous people who knew McCall get to have their say about him.
In 1950 McCall made the shrewd move of launching a custom pressing service whereby artists without a record contract could pay to have 4Star press up a limited run of discs, which they could then sell at their gigs; this was a no-risk venture for McCall as he wouldn't lose money if the records didn't sell, but he was in prime position to take advantage if the custom release looked like taking off. It was in this way that artists such as Texas Bill Strength, Tommy Kizziah and Slim Willet became 4Star signees following releases on the "OP" (Other People) series. Other artists who recorded for Four Star include Sammy Masters, Jimmy Dean, Hank Locklin, Eddie Miller, Roy Clark and Charlie Ryan. Singer-songwriter Carl Belew was contracted in 1955 and introduced the standards "Am I That Easy To Forget", "Lonely Street" and "Stop the World and Let Me Off", on all of which W.S. Stevenson is listed as co-writer. Other songs co-credited to him include "Release Me", "Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray", "Stop Look And Listen", "Hot Rod Lincoln" and "There He Goes" (recorded by Jerry Wallace as "There She Goes").
While Four Star's stable of talent was impressive, most acts left the label as soon as possible because, as Webb Pierce said, "he [McCall] thought it was a sin to pay anybody". McCall made it a regular practice not to pay or release from contractual obligation any Four Star artist, unless he was compelled to do so by circumstance (such as Union intervention or physical harm). In the second half of the fifties Bill McCall relocated to Nashville to concentrate on publishing. Gene Autry and Joe Johnson (owners of Challenge Records) bought Four Star Records in 1961 and subsequently leased the masters to Pickwick for several years. Current ownership is unclear. It is thought that Autry only purchased a part of the catalogue and that when Acuff-Rose Music purchased McCall's publishing company 4Star Sales they acquired the rest of the 4Star master recordings. Sony who now own Acuff-Rose certainly believe they own the label, although enquiries at their Nashville office by Tony Rounce and Dave Penny (when Ace were issuing Hickory compilations) hit a wall when they admitted that the 4Star master tapes were not apparently amongst the Acuff-Rose purchase ... only a hustler like Bill McCall could sell a usually shrewd, major corporation Scotch Mist !! He could do it while alive and he is still doing it over 25 years after his death ...
McCall is mentioned in the lyrics of at least two songs. Johnny Cash had what was considered to be an obscurely worded dig at the infamous mogul in 1960 with "Smiling Bill McCall" (Columbia 41618), which even climbed to # 13 on the Billboard country chart on the back of his cover version of George Jones' "Seasons Of My Heart". The lyrics are here: http://www.lyricsday.com/Johnny_Cash-Smiling_Bill_Mccall-lyrics-417780.html
Then there is "Arkie's Talking Blues" by Arkie Shibley (1951): "So I went to 4 Star with a smile on my face
This expresses Shibley's frustration at McCall turning down his song "Hot Rod Race". Shibley then recorded the song for his own label, Mountain Dew, but McCall soon saw his mistake, purchased the master and reissued "Hot Rod Race" on Gilt Edge.
CD's featuring 4 Star recordings:
With many thanks to Dave Penny for his help.
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